March 18, 2009

Human Rights Tool Box

Over twenty lawyers from Africa, Asia, and Central America gathered earlier this year at the Stockholm offices of Mannheimer Swartling to participate in a session entitled, “Developing a Human Rights Tool Box.” This is the third consecutive year that the weeklong session for practising lawyers has been organised as a joint initiative by Mannheimer Swartling and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute at Lund University (RWI).

The program draws on the extensive practical experiences of a major Swedish law firm that has a firm commitment to human rights and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s experience in development co-operation and expertise in the international system for the protection of human rights.

The session focused on three main themes: Fair Trial, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Human Rights in Conflicts. In addition to case studies, the participants attended lectures held by session organisers and external experts such as, Ingrid Schullström, CSR manager at H&M, Gunnar Strömmer, executive director of the Center for Justice (Centrum för rättvisa), and Ambassador Hans Corell, previously Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations.

Thomas Lagerqvist, Senior Counsel in mergers and acquisitions at Mannheimer Swartling’s Hong Kong office, held a lecture on the connection between CSR and commercial law and explained that commercial lawyers have a greater ability than they may realise to influence human rights and the environment.

- CSR is just one aspect of the larger concept of sustainability – that is to say, how our clients’ businesses impact on its stakeholders and the environment. Every business leaves some kind of “foot print”. In an increasingly borderless world interdependence between business and stakeholders must come into focus and this is why CSR and sustainability have to be integrated into the business models so as to ensure that companies can also earn money in the process. Otherwise they cannot afford keeping it up.. Addressing CSR-related issues, is consequently something which is directly related to the business operations of our clients and if managed correctly, also on a strategic level, can directly affect their business results. and by taking the right decisions, this can also lead to measurable improvement both in terms of profitability and in building value for all stakeholders.

There was consensus among the participants that CSR-related issues would be the ones they would tackle first when they returned home.

Thomas Lagerqvist continues,
- The firm already has a number of clients that give evidence of a deep understanding of CSR-related issues. They prove it by showing that they do not only choose to eliminate negative effects of their businesses on environment, workplace conditions etc,  but  by “pushing the envelope”  so as to find methods of making a positive impact on the environment and the community.

There is strong interest at Mannheimer Swartling to use the firm’s experience and expertise to contribute to the development of human rights explains Michael Karlsson, a partner in the mergers and acquisitions group and responsible for the firm’s pro-bono activities.

- The reason Mannheimer Swartling organises this session is because we think that democracy, human rights, and the development of functioning legal systems in countries around the world is important for their citizens, the businesses that operate there and society as a whole. It is very rewarding to be able to work with RWI and contribute to these developments. At the same time, it also gives us an opportunity to develop contacts with a very interesting group of practising lawyers from other countries,”

He continues that Mannheimer Swartling must assume certain responsibilities given the firm’s standing in the region and the resources it has available to support and organise such a conference.

- As a leading international law firm, we are able to apply our knowledge and experience to relevant areas and make a valuable contribution.

All the participants selected for the course have an interest in human rights and are engaged in the development of legal systems in their respective country. They also have been working for a number of years and have attained a position where they have the potential to influence the development of legal rights issues in their country.

One of this year’s participants was Fátima Mena, a lawyer from Honduras. In her evaluation of the course, she states, “this course offers a glimmer of hope that a change for the better is also possible in corrupt nations that have lost their respect for humanity and that constantly infringe upon human rights. This course has given me new strength to continue to work for a change.”

Mannheimer Swartling’s project leader, Babak Dadvar, is an associate in the firm’s dispute resolution group. He agrees that these sessions mean a great deal for everyone that gets involved.

- This week has an incredible impact on lawyers that come from countries where respect for human rights is not a given. And it also offers them a chance to exchange ideas, learn from each other, and explore ways to handle human rights issues in their daily work.

- In fact, it is impressive to see how much we all can learn from each other. Despite differences in legal systems and cultural differences that influence the standing of the legal profession in each country, the similarities end up being far greater than any differences.

A number of the firm’s lawyers are engaged in the project; as participants in the seminars where they contribute with their experiences and also in managing segments of the session. There is strong interest among the firm’s lawyers to participate and ensure the session is a success, concludes Michael Karlsson.

- We notice that many of our lawyers, in particular our younger associates, are keenly interested in understanding the role of law and legal systems in the face of globalisation. In our efforts to attract and retain the most qualified employees, our engagement in this project is very favourably received and I understand why – this is an extraordinary project that offers a lot of satisfaction in return.